SS 287 – Is Alcohol Healthy or Unhealthy?

Episode 287 Show Notes


Grant and Heavey talk about whether alcohol is healthy or not. What are its benefits? How much should you be drinking? Does it affect your gains and performance in the gym? 

[07:23] The Impact of Alcohol on Someone’s Health

Two questions came in from listeners asking about a common topic– alcohol. However, the questions surrounding alcohol are different in a way that one is about the health and disease aspect of it. The other is about it’s effects on training and gains. 

It’s easy to see how people can get confused on the topic with all the information out there. It feels like almost every day there’s an article in some publication about the potential benefits of booze or the potential downfalls.

It’s not that observational research is bad inherently, it just doesn’t provide an opportunity to draw cause and effect conclusions. But Heavey believes booze could be associated with a lower risk for heart disease.

[13:33] What Is Moderate Drinking?

The CDC has a definition for moderate drinking, which is defined as seven drinks per week. And no more than three on a single day for women, and 14 per week, with no more than four on a day for men.

[14:30] Why It’s Hard to Have Controlled Studies on This

Most studies are observational because it’s hard to have a long term controlled study. There’s a lot of uncertainty on this topic itself. It’s also unclear why we see outcomes like the heart health benefits associated with drinking. 

Grant even found a study which suggested that drinking some seemed to be better than drinking none. It could be that there’s a segment of the population that’s large enough that abstains from alcohol now. But they are doing so because they have a problem with it and their health has deteriorated so they must abstain to survive.

There’s no cause and effect presented in the studies. For instance, with heart disease, the research seems to show that those consuming around a half to one drink per day showed the greatest reduction in risk.

[17:33] Which Alcohol is Healthy?

It’s an important distinction because sometimes we hear that red wine is a healthy drink and others are not. While red wine does contain additional compounds that may be beneficial, in the context of these heart disease studies, it just really pertained to any booze.

[18:00] Risks Associated with Regular Alcohol Consumption

Regular alcohol consumption can impair pancreatic enzyme secretion, leading to nutrient malabsorption, especially of fats and proteins. Insulin resistance is common amongst alcoholics. Alcohol consumption impairs amino acid uptake and protein synthesis. This could be the reason that people who tend to consume excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis often have lower levels of muscle mass.

Heavy alcohol use diminishes uptake of vitamins (ex. Vitamins A, B1, and B6). Regular alcohol consumption can also lead to greater conversion of testosterone to estrogen that can contribute to factors like infertility and feminization. Often times, when people are struggling to conceive, one of the recommendations that they get from their doctor is to cut back on the booze.

[19:26] Does Booze Cause These Negative Health Effects?

Again, it’s hard to say that it’s the actual booze causing those negative health issues. Maybe it’s the culmination of many lifestyle items rather than the alcohol itself that’s leading to these other negative pieces.

For some people, a drink or two is a way to de-stress and can help that pillar of stress. It allows people to decompress and separate themselves from their day and their work especially. So there’s probably some benefit from being in that mindful state or happiness that’s offset by the negative effects of alcohol. 

[20:43] The Parallels Between Alcohol and Exercise

No exercise is not good. Too much exercise is also not good. But the right amount of exercise is perfect. And the same can be said with booze. That being said, it doesn’t mean you should start drinking if you don’t drink at all.

[21:46] Let’s Talk About Body Composition!

If we talk about body composition a little bit, there are seven calories per gram of alcohol. On top of that, a lot of alcohol-containing beverages also contain other calories like sweetened drinks. So this all depends on what you’re drinking as well.

If you drink your whiskey neat then there are no added calories. But a cask strength whiskey would have more calories in the same quantity than a regular strength bottled whiskey because there’s more alcohol present. 

[22:58] Why Headlines Are So Extreme

That’s why many headlines sound so extreme because they don’t consider all of the nuances with these topics. They just take the one headline and run with it. And they don’t color it with these other pieces because they’re boring and people don’t want to hear that.

[24:04] So Should You Be Drinking at All or Not?

Regular alcohol consumption depending on the time of day consumed can affect sleep quality. There are areas where it could affect your performance. It’s one of those topics where there can be diminishing returns. At some point, the impact that alcohol has on your performance or your body composition is going to pale in comparison to the other things that you’re doing. 

If you’re, say a bodybuilder, and you want to compete at the highest levels, then you probably need to be very strict about your booze intake. If you’re a professional athlete, and you make a living off of your performance on the field, you may want to be careful. But if you’re a person that just generally wants to be fit, having a drink a day is probably not that bad.

[25:31] Does Alcohol Work to Affect Your Gains?

A drink a day probably wouldn’t hurt you if you were looking purely on a body comp level. But it’s going to be a different answer when you’re competing in bodybuilding.

It’s hard to draw parallels between a top athlete in a field and the Average Joe because professional athletes are oftentimes genetic freaks. That raises an interesting point because people have different ways of handling alcohol. And that has to be accounted for in your personal decisions.

If you find that no matter what, even if you only have your drink at 6pm and you find that that disrupts your sleep, then that’s probably going to be an issue. If you find that having a drink disrupts your digestion and gives you the poopies or any sort of problems like that, then that may be an issue for you. Therefore, genetics affects your ability to process alcohol so this is something to consider. 

[29:16] Knowing When to Draw the Line

Now, very light to moderate drinking, heavy drinking and dependence are totally different situations. So there are other considerations to keep in mind. But it’s important to appreciate that because 90% to 100% of heavy drinkers develop fatty liver disease. On top of that, based on a sample of 1,200 adults, another study showed that 15% of them who consumed alcohol eventually became addicted. 

Dependence of alcohol typically includes three or more of the following: Drinking despite harm, strong desire to drink, loss of control over drinking, withdrawal symptoms, higher priority placed on drinking than other activities, and increased tolerance.

Ultimately, it’s worth questioning our habits. So, if we do make alcohol a habit,  it’s worthwhile to take a step back and understand why is that a habit? And if you’ve taken a look at it, and you’re at peace with that, and it makes sense to you, then cool. 

But if three or more of these items are a trigger for you, then that’s something that you may want to consider because it could escalate and turn into something that is harmful. And even if you have developed a habit and think you don’t have a problem, it’s always nice to take a little break.

[32:36] Final Thoughts

Wrapping this all up, Grant and Heavey have this to say. If people feel like they enjoy their drink, and it’s not having too many, and they’re not trying to optimize at the highest level of performance and body composition, then doing so probably is totally fine for their health. There may even be some benefit.



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